The acoustics of Müpa's Béla Bartók National Concert Hall are justly famed and Budapest’s leading concert venue attracts plenty of the world’s top orchestras and ensembles. Next season is no different, with an attractive of orchestras and ensembles, plus a fair smattering of star singers too.

Sir Simon Rattle © Oliver Helbig
Sir Simon Rattle
© Oliver Helbig

At times, it seems as if the London Symphony Orchestra is always on the road, taking its programmes to many countries. Under its new music director, Sir Simon Rattle, the orchestra is in even greater demand than ever, and the excitement of last season’s “This is Rattle” festival has barely dimmed with a series of standout concerts all season, both at home and abroad. In January, Rattle and the LSO perform Anton Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony, a work of great grandeur which requires a good acoustic in which the sound can bloom. And they even dare bring Bartók to Budapest with the punchy rhythms of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.

Near neighbours the Vienna Philharmonic appear with core Viennese repertoire. Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Brahms’ sunny Second Symphony and Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, with soloist Igor Levit who, according to our recent Musikverein review, “lets the music do the talking”. The third of the orchestral “big hitters” in the season is the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra which brings an all-French programme under Mariss Jansons. Iveta Apkalna, a frequent performer at Müpa, performs Poulenc’s garlicky Organ Concerto and Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony – a bit of a misnomer as the organ only appears in the second and fourth movements.

Teodor Currentzis © Anton Zavyalov
Teodor Currentzis
© Anton Zavyalov
MusicAeterna is a “new kid on the block” in orchestral terms but has quickly forged a dynamic reputation thanks to its maverick conductor. Teodor Currentzis often divides critical opinion, taking enormous risks which can enrage or delight. Take his approach to La clemenza di Tito at the Salzburg Festival last summer, where he added various chunks of other Mozart to the score. In Budapest, they tackle Mahler, pairing the Fourth Symphony with selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, from which the song Das himmlische Leben (The heavenly life) was eventually plucked to become the symphony’s finale. More Mahler comes from François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich Orchestra, who play the Fifth Symphony, a mightier work than the Fourth but with a beautiful, harp-flecked Adagietto.

If Mahler’s Fourth offers a vision of heaven, Verdi’s Requiem additionally gives you a glimpse of hell in its vicious Dies irae, punctuated by demonic thwacks from a huge bass drum. It’s a thrilling work, but is often performed by outsized orchestras and choruses. Sir John Eliot Gardiner enjoys stripping works back to their origins and at Müpa conducts his period instrument Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in a Verdi Requiem featuring voices a touch lighter than usual in this repertoire, including the excellent soprano Corinne Winters. Also at the period end of things, Michael Volle joins the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin for a number of Bach cantatas.

Corinne Winters © Fay Fox
Corinne Winters
© Fay Fox
The Lithuanian Chamber and Győr Philharmonic Orchestras can’t claim to be in the same big league as the LSO or Vienna Phil, but they bring interesting programmes to Budapest. Excellent violinist Sergej Krylov joins the Lithuanians for Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade (in this centenary season) and Pēteris Vasks’ Distant Light, while the Győr Philharmonic pairs in-laws Liszt and Wagner (Wagner married Liszt’s daughter) under conductor/clarinettist Kálmán Berkes.

Opera always plays a significant part in any Müpa season. Puccini’s first opera Le villi failed to win the competition for which it was composed, but the stage première was a great success. It is based on the same story as Adolphe Adam’s ballet Giselle, the willis being the fairy-like spirits who enact revenge on faithless lovers, forcing them to dance to their deaths. Puccini conceived the work as an opera-ballet and Ballet Pécs participate in Müpa’s performance, the cast headed by Marina Rebeka as Anna, abandoned by Martin Muehle’s Roberto.

Leo Nucci © Roberto Ricci
Leo Nucci
© Roberto Ricci
Ballet Pécs also play a part in Franz Lehár’s The Land of Smiles, given a full staging under Csaba Káel’s direction. The plot is bittersweet, the tale of an Austrian countess marrying a Chinese prince but unhappy that he takes other wives. She returns to her homeland, leaving Prince Sou-Chong alone but respecting the rule of Chinese custom: always smile.

Leo Nucci is a popular draw wherever he sings. The Italian baritone is now 76, but is as busy as ever. In Budapest, he takes on the role of the Doge in Verdi’s I due Foscari, performed in concert. Ivan Magrì and Guanqun Yu complete a respectable cast, with the Munich Radio Orchestra conducted by Ivan Repušić. Other stars of the operatic firmament appearing in concert include Joseph Calleja, one of the world’s favourite tenors, and glamorous soprano Olga Peretyatko.

The highlight – and culmination – of Müpa’s season is the Wagner Days festival, masterminded by Ádám Fischer. Next season sees a return of their concert staging of The Ring, with casts including Johan Reuter as Wotan, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund and Catherine Foster as Brünnhilde. Fischer is also responsible for another recent Budapest tradition: starting the year not with Strauss waltzes and polkas, but with Haydn’s uplifting oratorio, The Creation. Not to be missed.

Click here to view all events in Müpa's season. 


Article sponsored by Wavemaker Hungary